In 2006, a Servicemember being considered for medical separation had to negotiate two processes to obtain the benefits they were entitled to: first, their respective military service disability evaluation process, then upon discharge, the VA benefits claim process. The impact on the Servicemember was challenging and confusing: two separate examinations, two rating standards and two long processing times. Completing the two processes could take 540 days or longer, depending on when the Servicemember applied for VA benefits.
In 2007, DoD and VA implemented the Disability Evaluation System (DES) pilot, integrating the two processes with a goal of completing the integrated process within 295 days. The desired outcome was improved customer service for the medically separating Servicemembers and an improved experience as they now faced a radically different future than the one they had envisioned. We accomplished that outcome.
By 2010, the implementation of the DES pilot proved to be a success. It was renamed the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) and by 2011 it was in place at 139 military installations. In IDES, VA assists the Servicemember with developing their claim, conducts the required medical examinations, provides proposed disability ratings, and delivers their benefits by the earliest time allowed by law. IDES has streamlined the overall process; increased transparency, consistency, and customer satisfaction; and eliminated the benefits gap that existed under the legacy processes. IDES is inter-agency work at the highest level, requiring constant collaboration at the senior departmental levels and exceptional teamwork between Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and VA personnel at the local levels.
Today approximately 123,100 Servicemembers have completed the IDES and 20,500 are currently enrolled. The extraordinary efforts of the VA-DoD IDES team have resulted in service members currently averaging 274 days to complete IDES with 91 percent of the Servicemembers receiving their benefits notification within 30 days of separation from their respective military service. Improving the IDES customer experience remains the focus of the VA-DoD IDES Team, especially as it is often the Servicemembers’ introduction to VA. IDES is an example of a major VA-DoD collaboration success story.
John Medve is the executive director of the Interagency Collaboration and Integration Office in VA’s Office of Policy and Planning.